Stephen Kearney has named his first Warriors team of the 2018 NRL premiership season – and there’s few surprises in the 21-man squad to take on South Sydney in Perth on Saturday.
New recruits Peta Hiku, Blake Green, Adam Blair and Tohu Harris will make their official Warriors debuts in the run-on side, while fellow off-season arrival Leivaha Pulu is set to play his first game for the club off the bench.
Former Gold Coast forward Agnatius Paasi and ex-Wigan centre Anthony Gelling have been named in the extended interchange contingent.
Meanwhile, it shapes as a special occasion for 24-year-old hooker Sam Cook, who looks certain to make his first-grade debut after being named in the No.14 jumper.
“I’m pleased with the side we’ve been able to pick and it’s really special being able to name Sam,” Kearney told Warriors media.
“He’s had a wonderful preseason and he has worked really, really hard for the last 15 or so weeks. He had some nice touches in the trials and gets his opportunity to make his debut.
“Our new players have fitted in wonderfully well, too, and I’m really excited about seeing them play on Saturday afternoon.”
With club legend Simon Mannering ruled out by a shoulder injury, Ligi Sao has been named to start at lock and boom 20-year-old Isaiah Papali’i is in the second-row with Harris. Sao played 11 games for the Warriors last season but was not sighted after Round 21, while Papali’i made his NRL debut in Round 1 last year and made a further four top-flight appearances late in 2017.
“Simon picked up a shoulder injury in our last trial which could keep him out for a few weeks but young Isaiah Papali’i has had a great preseason and he’ll do a good job,” Kearney said.
James Gavet returns for his first NRL hit-out since Round 19 last season, forming a new starting front-row combination with the under-pressure Blair. Pulu and 2017 Warriors regulars Sam Lisone and Bunty Afoa will provide forward back-up off the bench.
Despite the glaring limitations in their make-up, Ken Maumalo and Solomone Kata have parlayed a solid trial showing against the Titans to stave off the challenges of Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad and Blake Ayshford for a Round 1 backline spot. That duo, along with Sao, have the most work to do to cement regular 2018 roles in this Warriors team.
Hiku will become Warrior #221, followed in the sequence by Green (#222), Blair (#223), Harris (#224), Cook (#225) and Pulu (#226), provided the final 17 remains as it stands currently.
All eyes will be on halves pairing Green and Shaun Johnson following their impressive first trial outing, while centre Hiku and winger David Fusitu’a will also be looking to strike up a fruitful relationship from the outset.
There’s a couple of talking points in the Rabbitohs’ line-up, with Greg Inglis making his hotly-anticipated return from a year-long layoff in the centres alongside big-name recruit Dane Gagai. Alex Johnston will start at fullback, with Richie Kennar and Robert Jennings claiming the contentious wing spots. Damien Cook has snared the hooker spot ahead of Robbie Farah, who has been named in the No.18 jumper, while giant 21-year-old Tevita Tatola is in line to make his NRL debut off the bench.
Warriors v South Sydney Rabbitohs – 9pm (NZT), Saturday, March 10 @ Optus Stadium, Perth
1 ROGER TUIVASA-SHECK (c)
2 DAVID FUSITU’A
3 PETA HIKU
4 SOLOMONE KATA
5 KEN MAUMALO
6 BLAKE GREEN
7 SHAUN JOHNSON
8 JAMES GAVET
9 ISSAC LUKE
10 ADAM BLAIR
11 ISAIAH PAPALI’I
12 TOHU HARRIS
13 LIGI SAO
14 SAM COOK
15 LEIVAHA PULU
16 SAM LISONE
17 BUNTY AFOA
18 JAZZ TEVAGA
20 MASON LINO
21 AGNATIUS PAASI
22 ANTHONY GELLING
Betting Watch: The TAB have the Warriors as $2.45 outsiders to salute with just their sixth Round 1 win in 22 attempts – and their maiden win in Perth in 10 visits – with Souths warm $1.45 favourites.